Through good times and bad, friends are forever

Yesterday I decided to partake of the world, even though I have four days left until my Moderna protection casts triumph with my immune system. It was a beautiful spring day and there was a maker’s market in the next town over. Two friends of mine asked me if I were going and I said sure. Two of us had the vaccine, the other one needed an all-clear from her doctor, since she just got over COVID-19, unfortunately.

As we wended our way through the market, it was nice to see so many people supporting the event. It was a fundraiser and yet another friend is in charge of it. Of course, there’s always someone who doesn’t have their mask on and we kept a good distance away. Alice, still recovering, had to walk slower as she tired quickly. Besides, everyone she passed seemed to know her, so Terry and I slowly wandered off.

Terry freezes and whips around. “Oh, god, no,” she says, walking off towards an elderly tree with drooping branches. I follow her. She indicates with a tip of her head a semi-tall man dressed tip-to-toe in deep ebony and crowned with an ornate black hat. His flesh is pale as his sharp gaze penetrates the crowd. He doesn’t stop at any of the tables to check out the merchandise. If anything, he’s a curiosity in a place of curios.

“What’s up with that guy?” I ask.

Terry replies, “He’s the one I told you about. And now I’m freaking out.”

Him?” I say, fixing my gaze on him.

Terry nods, shrinking back behind the tree trunk.

The man used to be a very good friend of hers and they’d worked together on a really important project for grad school. That is, until he got quite drunk and, well, let’s say, tried to force her against her will. Apparently, it seemed, his wife often enabled his drinking, and Terry wasn’t the first target of his advances. Yet husband and wife walked arm in arm, absorbed in their own selves, oblivious of anyone surrounding them.

After what seemed like forever, they left. By now Alice had seen them and rushed over to Terry. It’s amazing to us how one person can pull the ropes down on another.

“You’re safe with us,” Alice says, “and besides, he’s gone now. But we’d never let anything happen to you.” We put our arms around her (social distancing be damned!) and head back out into the market.

It almost seems like reunion time here. So many friends run into each other, it almost becomes difficult to make our way down the lanes. Everyone’s coming out and seeing who’s there. Lots of people discuss their vaccines (“I got Pfizer, but my sister-in-law got Moderna,” “Yeah, I was really sick after the second shot, but I’m okay now,” “There’s nothing I can say that’ll convince my mother to get the shot; she says it’s a personal decision and doesn’t care what anyone thinks”). One vendor has an entire rack of “I’M VACCINATED” buttons, crafted out of rhinestones, beads, bottle caps, all sorts of things. Of course, I have to have one. Why not brag in style?

Another friend of mine’s running a booth. Haven’t seen her since October and even then, it was all too brief. So we catch up between shoppers. “With all this going on, now I’m going through menopause. Had my first shot and I didn’t know if it was a reaction or my body rebelling against my fertility,” Elsa says. I laugh. “Yeah, I get it,” I say. “I’m in the same boat and it never seems like it’s going to end. Can’t say for sure if that’s a good thing or not.”

A married couple is speaking with Alice. They’re kind of idols to me. You see, they run the best-ever ice cream place. about five minutes from my house. Alice’s kids used to babysit theirs a while back. I join the conversation, lavishing praise on their absolutely delicious slate of homemade ice creams. And I’m absolutely certain to tell them I purchase their pumpkin ice cream in September so it graces my Thanksgiving table.

As I’m checking out the Cheesecake in A Cup! stand, a tall woman in a camouflage duster and army boots wanders over to Alice. She places her hand on Alice’s shoulder, whose head drops to her chest. Their conversation appears to be serious. I’m fairly certain I know why. It’s the anniversary of Alice’s child’s passing. Her friend, showing concern, tells her that child lives in all of our memories. After a moment, the friend leaves, but Alice stands there, unable to move.

Terry and I rush to her side. “You okay?” we both ask.

“It doesn’t get any easier, you know,” Alice says. “But I think I’m getting used to it.”

“I don’t think you can,” says Terry, “Who would?”

“We’re here,” I say, “Always will be. No one can tell you how to grieve, but we’ll be your shoulders to cry on.”

Billowy white clouds drift above us, as we stand next to an evergreen with tiny red cones. The scent of lilac filters through its branches. Alice takes a branch in her hand and admires the small cones, noticing last year’s cones scattered underneath. “How beautiful these are, just like Christmas decorations,” she says and smiles. “It’s another year, and another year’s upon us already. We’ve all died a little bit. Maybe we should start making plans to live.”

“Great idea,” I say. “Why don’t we get out of here?”

We wander towards the exit of the market, trying to find a place with outdoor dining. Three of us, affected by so many aspects of life, death, fear and the unknown, choose to shove all that aside for a brief respite on a gorgeous spring day, buoyed by the friendship that binds us.

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